ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
If real estate in Marion County has a “command central,” it would be in the Register of Deeds Office located in the county courthouse, and Faye Makovec would be in command.
But the office actually has little decision-making authority, and the mild-mannered Makovec is hardly a “commander.”
Still, everything that happens in real estate is reported to her small corner office on the main floor of the courthouse.
Whether a particular property is bought or sold or inherited or transferred, the Register of Deeds Office is the first official place where the transaction is recorded because the deed to every property must be kept current.
“You might say it starts the process for taxation and everything else because we do give copies (of the filed deeds) to a clerk and appraiser, and then the appraiser gets her information from the clerk,” Makovec said. “We sort of work hand in hand.
“But they have to have the deeds before they can do anything else.”
After a transaction is recorded for office use, a backup copy is made on microfilm and eventually stored for safekeeping in the underground facilities that formerly were salt mines near Hutchinson.
Some of the office information is recorded and stored with the help of computers, but the real treasure trove of information is kept in “the vault,” a room estimated to be 15 feet square that is filled from floor to high ceiling with several hundred volumes.
Each volume that is neatly shelved on a rack contains the record of past transactions for a particular property.
The information kept in the office and vault is most frequently tapped by attorneys and abstractors.
“We have a lot of attorneys, but abstractors come in daily,” Makovec said about her typical day. “For a long time now we haven’t had much regarding oil (leases), but once in a while we’ll have some oil people in here, too.
“And then a lot of people we don’t know simply want to check the title to a particular piece of property.”
Because the vault has records dating back to the mid- to late-1880s, the office is also a boon for historical researchers.
“People come in to do geneology,” Makovec. “We also get requests to check a name, and I do that in my spare time.”
Many of the researchers come in to find information on a particular piece of ancestral property. But Makovec said her office keeps many other kinds of records as well.
“The name (of the office) is deceiving because we don’t just register deeds,” she said. “We record any document that’s properly acknowledged and reportable.”
Her list includes such records as releases and assignments of mortgages, plats, certificates of death (but only to show severed interest in a deed), power-of-attorney documentation, the discharge records for local military service men and women-and “affidavits of all kinds,” she said.
The office also is a repository for school records for country schools from 1884 to 1920.
“They’ll find the names of the kids who went to school in those school records,” she said. “They go through those, too.”
Despite the diversity of their records, sometimes people still ask for information that goes beyond the scope of the office.
“Sometimes somebody will call and want the phone number of somebody else,” Makovec said with a chuckle. “We feel at times like maybe we’re an information bureau-which isn’t really the case.
“But they’ve got to call somebody, and we transfer them or tell them where to go to get the number,” she added. “It’s nothing, I guess that we really can’t handle. It might be unusual, but we can take care of it.”
Makovec sets the tone for public service in the two-person office.
“She’s a very caring and thoughtful person,” said Jo Ottsenmeier, who recently completed her fifth year as deputy register of deeds.
“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t appreciate everything she does-around here and outside of work also,” Ottsenmeier added. “She’s very easy to work with.”
Makovec first stepped into the Register of Deeds Office as an employee shortly after graduating from high school in 1956.
After four years, she took a break to get married and raise a family, although she still filled in part-time as needed.
In 1977, she accepted an invitation to return to the office for a permanent position.
“They needed somebody and they asked me, and I came in as deputy register of deeds,” she said.
She’s been in the office ever since, and became register of deeds in 1992.
Makovec said she has stayed at the job for some 26 years now for a variety of reasons, but the one that comes most quickly to her mind reflects her service orientation.
“I enjoy the people,” she said. “I have good people to work with here in the office, and good people who come in from the outside.”
The way she and her staff do the work has changed over the years. Examine one of the record books in the vault you’ll find almost a archeological exhibit through the evolution of office technology.
The earliest records are handwritten in the classic script of the people involved in the transaction, including signatures of city founders such as John G. Hill of Hillsboro.
The next stage was the typewriter-primitive at first and then more polished. Photocopiers followed in more recent decades, followed, of course, by computerization.
“It’s interesting to look up things, and still we do a lot of hand writing,” she said. “Of course, with computers, we’ve eliminated some of our handwriting. We used to have two books up (at the front table) for a long time, but they’ve been replaced with computer printouts.
“I started that the first of the year.”
Another component of the job Makovec said she enjoys is the variety-and the changing pace-of the tasks that arise from day to day.
They do schedule Tuesdays and Thursdays for keeping current with microfilming new records, but “you never know what you’ll be doing,” she said.
“That’s what probably makes it really interesting,” she added. “You just never know. We don’t have like a tax season or an election, so the pace usually stays fairly steady.
“I like to be busy, although sometimes it can get a little overwhelming,” she added. “And I sometimes feel I can’t give (a request) real justice because we do have a time frame.”
Because of the register of deeds is an elected position, Makovec keeps her job only if voters want her to. She accepts the principle-but she isn’t too excited about “campaigning.”
“That’s the part I don’t care for,” she said. “I’m not a real political person. I like the job and I like the people, but that’s one thing that I’m not good at-going out and asking people to vote for me.
“That’s sort of my downfall.”
Well, yes and no.
During her experience with the office, only once has a register of deeds had competition at the ballot box-and that happened well before she assumed the office.
But rather than suggest that her efficient and courteous management style keeps potential opponents from filing, she’s more likely to suggest other realities about the position.
“I think a lot of it is that it’s a little lower pay than the other (county) offices, though they did make some changes a few years ago which helped,” she said.
“But that’s pretty typical in all 105 counties (in Kansas),” Makovec added. “There are some (register of deeds) who get the same pay as the county treasurer and the county clerk, but most are like our county.”
When she’s not at the office, Makovec said she likes spending time with husband Jerry at their rural home, where she raises flowers and gardens.
She said she also enjoys the six grandchildren that belong to their four grown children.
“I guess I’m just an old-fashioned person,” she said.
As if public service isn’t enough, she likes to volunteer at the church when she can.
“Other than that I’m pretty dull,” she said with a smile.
Considering the comments of her clients and co-worker, that’s one claim you won’t find documented in her office.